Sunday, February 26, 2012

A soldier (who made one helluva mistake) comes home

In late October 2006 an Iraqi-American Army reservist serving as a linguist in the Green Zone of Baghdad, Iraq left the complex against military rules to visit his wife somewhere in the Karrada neighborhood. His very stupid and naive mistake ultimately led to his death.

SPC (at the time, he would later be promoted staff sergeant) Ahmed Kousay Altaie was likely kidnapped by Shia militiamen (either Jaysh al Mahdi or the more extremist Jaysh al Mahdi Special Group). A proof of life video was posted in February 2007 and a demand of $250,000 was made.

The more extremist Shia organization Asaib al-Haq would later claim to be in possession of Altaie.

When news of SPC Altaie's capture reached us up in Mosul I assumed the soldier had simply become sick of military life and being stuck on a military installation in the country he was born in. I figured he walked away and blended into Iraqi life asking his family to make up the capture story in order to avoid shame to his name. Who just walks off a base in the middle of a war zone? You could probably get away with it in 2003, early 2004, or likely even 2009 but Baghdad in 2006 was in the midst of tearing itself apart in sectarian bloodshed.

It was a major mistake on his part and his status became DUSTWUN (duty status whereabouts unkown) which later changed to missing/captured. Despite several operations and thousands of soldiers he was never recovered and he became the only soldier lost and never recovered during our operations in Iraq.

Until February 22, 2012. SSG Altaie's family were informed that the Iraqi government had been given Altaie's body and had turned it over to the US government.

Welcome home brother. May you rest in peace.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Somalia still sucks, it just sucks a little less now

Ugh, stupid Skyrim getting in the way of my life...or is it life getting in the way of Skyrim? Anywho, I've unintentionally ignored my own blog to fight dragons on my Xbox (and sort of look for a job to get me out of unemployment) but I haven't been ignoring some of the news that interests me. So with to Somalia! My favorite failed state.

When I last discussed Somalia it was back in November and the African Union had somehow managed to push those pesky Shabaab militias out of Moqadishu. Kenya and Ethiopia had also entered the fray and began fighting Shabaab forces along their borders, and into Somalia as well. I pointed out a couple options that Shabaab could attempt which included look to Eritrea for assistance or seek help from Al Qaida.

Apparently Shabaab reads my blog (or the options were limited) and the organization declared a merger with Al Qaida. Will this move help at all? Maybe with recruiting, but I don't see it helping the organization in the long term. As I've mentioned before, AQ seems to be on the run and its financial situation is likely weak.

Just to make things a little more interesting, the Muslim Youth Center, Shabaab's affiliate in Kenya, also declared allegiance to Al Qaida and has become Al Qaida East Africa. Congratulations gentlemen, I see Predator drones in your future.

The African Union has also been busy. Refusing to rest on their laurels, AU has taken the fight out of Moqadishu and is pushing Shabaab in the towns near the capital. Shabaab can't just sit idle of course and continues to conduct suicide attacks and other assaults in Moqadishu when they can like good little insurgents do (did I just link to a Twitter account for Shabaab? I should join just to follow those guys. If only Twitter was around during Baghdad Bob's time).

Is Shabaab done? Not quite. Although when your fighters start fleeing to Yemen that's not a good sign. My advice for Shabaab: continue attacks in Moqadishu when you can but it's time for the organization to go to ground. Wait for the AU, Kenya, and Ethiopia to get complacent and when the foreign troops start to leave you rise up again. They'll also begin leaving when your IEDs and carbombs sap their morale.

My advice to the AU: keep up the pressure on Shabaab. Ask for more assistance from the West and for fucks sake, conduct proper counter insurgency. If stories about your soldiers raping women or leadership ordering villages destroyed start appearing then you might as well let Shabaab waltz back into Moqadishu.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Another tribal sheikh bites the dust

As much as I know that I should completly move on and forget about NE Diyala Province, I can't help but keep tabs on some of the major events that occur in that little corner of Iraq that 1-14 spent a year in.

That said, the other day a sheikh of a minor tribe of As Sadiyah was killed by a bomb placed in his car. The sheikh was from the al-Asakira tribe and to be honest if I ever knew anything about that tribe it escapes me now. As Sadiyah was the town just south of COP Cobra and was actually a series of villages that became neighborhoods of As Sadiyah. For many of the neighborhoods one tribe would be the majority of the residents and I suspect the Asakira are one of those tribes.

What does this attack mean?

Having no other information other than it seems pretty apparent somebody was trying to kill him I can't really say for sure. It's likely he just angered somebody but it also have been a political hit. Perhaps this sheikh was too friendly towards the Kurds, or maybe he was active in removing Al Qaida cells from his neighborhood. Whatever the case, it appears that there is still an insurgent cell or two conducting operations (unless it was indeed political and in that case, Iraqi politics as usual).

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A chapter ends

I am out of the Army as of 0850 today...hold up...I'm a civilian now...sorry, 8:50 am. There, that's better.

Feels good.

I'll still be posting on this blog since my interest in insurgencies around the world and the happenings in Iraq have not ceased. Also, I'm pretty sure I can still come up with some more interesting stories from my previous deployments.

Ok, enough of this...back to Skyrim.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Working with our "Special" friends: Part III

Ok, so when I left off in my previous post 1-14 Cav had gone after a possible meeting of 3 high value targets based off information from a source belonging to our friendly neighborhood special forces team. The info was essentially bogus and the raid a dud but had led to the fascinating discovery of a sheikh inhabited by a djinn.

The source's information might have been bad, but at least he had given some actionable intelligence. Unfortunately, the SF team continued to get information that was likely bad and kept concluding that it was valid.

About two or three weeks after the false raid we had a mortar attack on (now FOB) Cobra. We hadn't had a mortar attack on the base since November and this attack still bothers me to this day since the insurgent mortar team should have been eliminated back when they were consistently hitting us.

Back story: between October and November, Cobra was hit 4 times by 60mm mortars from the same general location. The attacks occured 14-17 days apart and between certain hours in the late afternoon/early evening. However, due to some equipment "issues" we weren't entirely sure where the team was hitting us from and chased our tails for the first couple of attacks. By the third attack we had the location pinned down. Strangely, the last attack in November was the last attack until March 13. This was likely due to two events. 1: The previous SF team along with the Iraqi army captured two individuals and a cache of weapons in December...this likely spooked the cell. 2: 1-14 conducted a rehearsal "dry" fire of counter mortars in which we accidently fired mortars at the known location where the team was hitting us from (known as the point of origin...POO...heh, heh, poo). This also likely spooked the cell.

On the evening in question we were renovating our dining facility and so everyone was filing through an outdoor kitchen and generally eating outside. There was also a crane assisting in the renovation that was lit up like a Christmas tree. The entire base had gotten complacent. Five 60mm mortars came in and the first one struck the bottom part of a storage container sending the strapnel further and faster than usual. The strapnel struck PFC Erin McLyman who was assigned to us from 296 Brigade Support Battalion to assist in searching females on the combined checkpoints that had been established in the Combined Security Area. She died on the MEDEVAC flight.

C troop spent the next several days going through the villages in the Tibij tribal area talking with everyone they could and searching under every rock. The evidence and information they gathered pointed straight back to the known insurgent network operating in the area. Two individuals were also detained, one of whom was a teenager. During interrogation the teenager also blamed the AQI network.

Within the same time frame a couple of SF intel reports from their sources came out that we of course put in our daily squadron intelligence summary, standard practice. The intel from the SF team conflicted with our own and we put in our assessment that we believed the source was wrong or providing false information knowingly. Apparently this bruised the egos of the SF team who sent emails to two of my NCOs (but not my HUMINT NCO for some reason) asking WTF. As my night NCO told me, you can't get so focused on your own sources that you believe everything they say, you've got to have thick skin about it.

It didn't help that the SF team may have had a chat with the detainees taken by C troop without the proper paperwork and authorization. When asked by my brigade intel officer if anyone had interrogated the detainees I stated that my team had and the SF team may have. The brigade S2 went to the SF company commander and questioned why the team conducted an interrogation without the proper paperwork in which the commander called the team commander to find out what the fuck was going on...yeah, whoops on my part.

So not only was I calling out the team's sources, I was unintentially calling them out on a possible illegal interrogation. The SF intel guy stopped coming by to see me at that point.

My winning personality is probably not going to fix this

Communication wasn't completely severed, though. Lucky me I had been assigned a female counter-intelligence NCO who eventually started having a close relationship with one of the SF members. There is a slight pun in there and if she reads this blog (unlikely) she may hunt me down and kill me.

The final straw between myself and the SF team came in June after the suicide car bomb that killed 2 of our soldiers and wounded several more. Within hours an SF source had named the person who conducted the attack. However, it soon became apparent that this information didn't make sense. The Iraqi army was soon able to determine who the suicide bomber was (not the guy the SF team said) and who was responsible (also not the guy the SF team said). The information my section gathered corroborated what the Iraqi army was finding out. Someone was blowing smoke up the SF team's ass.

A week after the attack I had most of the scenario mapped out and who did what. Late one evening the adjudant (personnel officer/aide to the squadron commander) called me and said I should come to his office. Sitting there waiting for our squadron commander to get out of another meeting was the SF team commander. He told me that they were certain that the guy their source was naming was the guy who conducted the attack...and that we should target him.

I will state this was not one of my more finer or professional moments. It was mid June, I had a month and half left in theater. I was exhausted mentally, physically, and emotionally. I also didn't want to put up with some jackass telling me who I should be targeting when they very well could target the guy themselves.

I told the SF commander very sternly that their source was wrong. I informed him of what we had determined (which was much more in depth than what he was giving me...a single name). I then told him that if they were so certain about this guy then they should target him since they hadn't really done much during their deployment. Before getting a reaction I left the office.

Hmm...the ashes of that bridge look like a great spot to piss on.

That reaction isn't like me. That's not my personality at all but he really really really pushed me and my temperment. If he mentioned anything to the squadron commander about my attitude I never heard about it. The next and last interaction I had with the SF team was to introduce my replacement to them. Fortunately my NCOs still talked with them so not all was lost.

Maybe it's the reason I was banished to Huachuca, though.